Fairy tales for adults

Steve Bougerolle steveb at creek-and-cowley.com
Thu Feb 13 20:48:51 PST 2003

On Fri, 2003-02-14 at 00:09, Richard Lightman wrote:

> A couple of nasty examples:
> * Does the christian's god exist?

Of course he exists.  What his NATURE is, is quite another story :)

> * Can I really commit murder, repent and go to heaven?

I don't know.  I've never been to heaven.

Once again you are putting words in my mouth, loading up hidden
assumptions about the things you question.  These notions about going to
heaven are all weird at best because Christ made explicitly clear that
he was not describing a real place. Luke 17:21 "nor will people say
`here it is` or `there it is` because the kingdom of God is within
you."  Your example relates to people's misreading of Christ, not to
actual Christian belief.  The answer to your question really says
nothing about the "truth" or "falsehood" of Christianity.

> Logic is a branch of mathematics, and does not apply well to people,
> relationships, and codes of behaviour, which is what (I think) people
> are looking for when studying a religion.

So you would judge a religion's validity by what it says about people
and not about a supreme being?

> Not sure what you are after here. Possible examples:

Likewise I am not sure what you are after when you ask "what is the test
of truth in religion".

> 1) The emperor has the right to rule Rome because he is (dubiously)
>    descended from Zeus and Electra (by way of Aeneas).
> (1) is an example of a religion claiming a basis in history, but
> Augustus ruled more because you could die horribly if you disagreed
> publicly than because of the poem commissioned to legitimise his
> ancestry.

So even though he had a valid historical claim his religion was invalid
and the proof is there just by looking at the people who were supposed
to believe it?  But then you yourself just said his claim to a
historical basis for divinity was doubtful at the time, so it seems to
me that the historical test works just dandy there.  His historical
claim was very doubtful and therefore the entire religion was doubtful,
but Augustus kept power anyway because he was a strong ruler, not
because of any religious aspect.

2) Armies must be kept busy abroad or their commanders will attempt a
>    coup.
> (2) is something historians could find evidence for and against, and
> perhaps reach a usefule conclusion, but it does not sound like religion
> to me.

Of course not.  My point was that if a religion claims to be true based
on history, then you can judge its validity by the standards of
history.  If I said I was God because the people of Canada had all
declared me to be so ten years ago, you would very quickly prove me

Unfortunately, most real religions don't have clear histories.

> > If a religion makes definite predictions about what will happen in
> > future, then  ...

> I have heard 'predictions' in the bible are proof the the religion is
> more valid than say Islam. This is not something I find convincing.

Nor do I, and this is why I said "definite" predictions.  The Christian
canon contains no indisputable concrete predictions that I am aware of. 
There are very general philosophical ones, and there are very unclear
but concrete ones (ie in the Revelation) which can reasonably be
interpreted in all sorts of different ways.  

Unfortunately, lots of people insist on reading definite predictions
into the bible.  This oversimplification is really annoying, but then
you're doing it, too so at least I'm getting a nice balance of overly
simplistic accusations from both sides :).

Whatever the test of truth for Christianity is, it surely does not
depend on what its followers manage to convince themselves of, because
different people manage to believe all sorts of weird things that have
little or no biblical basis, and the same is true of just about any
other religion or any other mass movement.  I trust we can agree on

> Another popular reason for christianity (told to me by a born-again)
> "I know in my heart that it is true". Good for her, but I don't know
> any such thing.

Perhaps some day you will.

By the way, to save confusion I will define what I mean by a Christian;
a Christian is somebody who believes what Christ said and does his best
to follow.  Being a Christian does not require one to believe in many of
the things that people ordinarily associate with Christians.  If you
wish I will be happy to give a detailed list with explanations.

Now, the woman you mention has given you the real answer to your "test
of truth" question, I think.  Despite endless details that can confuse
us, the ultimate reason why we believe the bible is its simple
authority; if you manage to forget all the impressions and prejudices
you have acquired from hearing people babble on, and read the bible with
an open and reasonable mind (thus bearing in mind it was written for a
different audience than us), it speaks obvious truth.  It also has lots
to say to lift us beyond petty concerns.  There are also many things
there that we might not want to believe on some superficial level but we
know in our hearts that they are true as soon as we hear them (in much
the same way, just for example, that you might not want to listen to a
friend telling you he thinks you shouldn't drink & drive even though you
know he is right).

By the way, ALL Christians are "born again".  If you ever meet one who
claims otherwise then either 1) He hasn't learned much about the faith
he proclaims or 2) more likely he is deliberately choosing his words to
fit your expectations and distinguish himself from some other group of
Christians he disagrees with.  (That just for interest's sake).

> Please take your time, and decide how you know what is true:

It's hard to answer because you seem to want to hear an answer in terms
that I really don't use myself.  Asking me whether Christianity is true
or false is rather like asking me if Mathematics is true or false.  I
don't see it as a simple proposition to be proven right or wrong, it is
a method by which I (I hope) make the world a better place.  

I do believe that what Christ said is true, that he was presenting a
view of the universe and life that is correct, and I suppose my test of
truth there is that when I accept it "everything fits" and "goes
right."  It IS very much the same way I would judge a scientific theory,
I guess. (I do not agree with your suggestion that scientific theories
can be proven true by experiment; they can only be proven false).

Different statements in the bible might be right or wrong, by various
standards, but before you pass judgement on them it is necessary to
understand them, and it is important to weigh their relevance.  There
are definite undeniable contradictions in the bible (one that springs to
mind is the question of when Christ began his ministry, before or after
John the Baptist was beheaded).  Some people waste a lot of energy
trying to explain away these things with various weird mystical
formulas, but why bother?  The four gospels were written by four men,
one of whom must have made a small mistake.  This doesn't affect the
central thrust or truth of their stories in the slightest.  We would
judge anybody else's account of an event by much the same reasonable
standard, why treat the bible any differently?

Steve Bougerolle
Creek & Cowley Consulting


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